Unsupported versus supported thru-hike

Scott Jurek just began his attempt on taking down the supported Appalachian Trail record and I’m excited of the possibility of seeing both records fall in one year. I’m fascinated by what he is doing and have infinite respect for the man. I want to clarify some of the questions I’ve been asked and exactly why I chose to go unsupported. The unsupported record is an entirely different game than supported. For me it is infinitely more appealing to go for the unsupported record but I can fully appreciate and admire the supported record. I’ve been in awe at what Jen Pharr Davis accomplished out there and would be thrilled to see Scott Jurek do it even faster. I think it takes two different types of people to break each record, which is why no single person holds both records for any of the long trails in the United States.

What got me into backpacking in the first place was independence. I started my solo trips my junior year of high school and absolutely loved being able to get away with everything I need on my back. I started trying to see how far I could go in a short amount of time my sophomore year of undergrad on a Thanksgiving break trip and it kind of just took off from there. My pack got lighter, the distances grew, and I learned how to manage my time better. I went from waking up after the sun rose to setting an alarm and rising for an hour of hiking in the pre-dawn hours. I limited my stops to a couple breaks a day and chose my pack based on accessibility to food and water to eat and drink on the go. I even choose short shorts for easy access to urinate while hiking. I love this game. I love playing the day out to see how efficiently I can get chores done to get in and out of camp to allow myself more time to hike. And even if this doesn’t mean I will hike farther per se, it at least allows me to slow the pace down and give my legs less of a beating.

being out there in the sweat and grit and knowing I can survive- that is my home.

I love the logistics of planning an adventure and I love the thrill of a solo endeavor. A supported hike is a team effort and every single person who helps Jurek along the way will be essential to his success. I’ll desperately need the emotional support of friends and family, and depend on my sponsors and family for gear and finances. But out there on the trail, the only thing I’ll depend on are services that every other hiker has access to. Even hitches into town are seen as an individual service and are off limits-I’ll hike to every one of my resupplies.

Unsupported is a backpacking trip-I’ll be carrying camping supplies for the entirety of the trip. And while I love hiking and I love the athletic thrill of taking my body to the limit, I love so much more the elegance of carrying everything I need on my back. That is the beauty that enticed me to this endeavor, and I wouldn’t have this trip any other way.

A lot of people confuse this as being more grueling than the supported record. But the reality is, they simply aren’t comparable. You bet your ass if Scott Jurek has anything left to give, he’s going to lay it out there-he’s no dainty dude. And there’s absolutely no way I could come close to comparing to him over the course of a supported record. But I like to think I’m pretty good at hiking 40 miles, sleeping in the mud, dealing with far less than ideal recovery, and waking up and doing it all over again the following day. Not sure if that sounds appealing to anyone else, but being out there in the sweat and grit and knowing I can survive- that is my home.

I’m not sure about Scott’s thoughts on the unsupported hike, but maybe if I pull this off, I’ll get a chance to ask him myself. I imagine he sees it as I see the supported record-a different adventure for a different athlete. So best of luck to him and hopefully we’ll both accomplish our goals injury and illness free (or at least minimized).

Grayson Cobb

Grayson Cobb

I am a long distance backpacker, triathlete, adventurer, climber, kayaker, and lowly medical student currently living in Norfolk, VA attending Eastern Virginia Medical School and getting out for adventures on weekends.
Grayson Cobb

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